Darkness never dies. It always lingers at
the edge of light, waiting for its moment
of inevitable return.
Take The Shadow. Six decades may have aged a fellow of such stature
but The Shadow still knows "what fear lurks in the hearts of men," and
this summer a whole new generation will be introduced to one of
America's most beloved pulp fiction heroes as he's transformed into pop
culture with a big-budget Universal release starring Alec Baldwin in the
"The Shadow is much more than your so-called super hero—this is
definitely not going to be Captain America," promises director Russell
Mulcahy (Highlander) who had the formidable task of bringing the
character to the screen after the film's decade-plus development process.
"The Shadow is much more real than a guy putting on a zany costume and
running around. When you talk about Lamont Cranston, you're talking
about a very complex character. There is so much background material on
him that it gives him blood and really breathes life into him."
BY DON E. PETERSON
When Walter Gibson (under the pen name Maxwell
Grant) first envisioned the mysterious man who had
the ability to "cloud men's minds" back in the '30s
dime store detective novels, he was a dark-hearted
hero whose own ideas about justice were far from
socially responsible (and definitely not politically
correct). Through his various incarnations, including
the popular radio show, motion picture serials, and
his own comic book, The Shadow managed to retain
an edge that even his knock-offs (like Batman)
couldn't quite match. "There's this taint of evil that
made him very interesting," explains producer Martin
Bregman. "Before the radio show, there were over
three hundred pulp magazine books, and that's where
The Shadow came from and what made him a
fascinating character. He was a character fighting the
evil within himself. That's what makes him a very
theatrical character and a very interesting one at
After many screenwriters tackled the complexities
of The Shadow's latest rebirth, Bregman notes that it
wasn't until David Koepp (Jurassic Park) arrived, in
early 1990, that the movie finally found the correct tone.
"Thematically the earlier drafts didn't work,"
explains Bregman. "Some of them were light, some of
them were darker, and others were supposedly
funnier—which they weren't. It just didn't work. No
one really could get this guy, and it never had the size
it should have had. David finally wrote The Shadow
as this enormous character. He came up with the right
script, and part of it was, he went back to the original
ith a wealth of background knowledge from his
fond memories of listening to rebroadcasts of the old
radio show when he was a kid, Koepp found the
character pretty easy to peg. However, condensing his
expansive history into one movie was the hard part.
"Basically I picked the characters and villains from
the pulp novels and I took the tone of the radio show
and made up my own story," says Koepp. "I saw this
as an adventure in the classic sense and a bit of
Koepp cites as inspiration the biblical tale of the
complete personal transformation "of Saul on the
road to Damascus. I thought The Shadow was a
classic story about dread, guilt and redemption. I
wanted to start the movie showing where the bizarre
character originated and then show him on an
adventure as his past comes to haunt him. I would say
it's equal parts mythmaking, and I thought its
'30s time frame made it a natural for a snappy, '30s-
style type of dialogue."
Creating a background for the character was also
liberating since, according to Koepp, the origins were
only vaguely alluded to in early days.
"It's hard any time you're creating a legend, but this
gave us the opportunity to go back and create our
own back story for him," says Koepp. "Finding the
conceptual key for the character was important.
Superman is for truth, justice and the American way;
Batman, I think, is revenge; and The Shadow, I felt,
was guilt. It's about a man coming to terms with his
dual nature. It was Jekyll and Hyde more than
anything else. It was the idea that both good and evil
exist in the same person."
Unlike most movies, producer Bregman notes that
very few actors were considered for the part of The
Shadow. In the initial stages, Jeremy Irons' name was
thrown around (other rumors throughout the years
even had Roy Scheider mentioned as a potential heir
to the pulp hero's throne), but Koepp admits he
always unconsciously felt Alec Baldwin personified
what the character was about.
ctually, I try to specifically not have anyone cast in
my mind while writing because you have to tailor the
role for an actor soon enough—you may as well keep
the character himself or herself for as long as you
can," says Koepp. "However, I had admired
Alec Baldwin for some time and he crept into my
mind when writing because he's a terrific actor and his
eyes and voice are much suited to Lamont Cranston.
Once I thought of him early on, I couldn't get him out
of my head; he just became The Shadow to me. The
fact that we actually got our first choice was
delightful, because you never get your first choice."
Having Baldwin accept was a pleasant surprise for
Bregman as well, since he notes, "Most actors are
reluctant to play what they think is a cartoon
"Alec saw beyond that," says Bregman. "And he is
everything this character should be—a macho guy,
very good looking, and intelligent."
For the film, Cranston is pitted against one of the
pulp novel's most dangerous foes—Shiwan Khan
(John Lone), a descendent of Genghis Khan who
wants to succeed where his ancestor failed.
"These movies are always defined by their villain,
and in the books I was struck by Shiwan Khan," says
Koepp. "I like him because he was bold and he knew
what he was doing—he wanted to conquer the world.
That was very simple, maybe a little ambitious, but he
knew exactly what he wanted. He also felt a sense of family obligation.
Genghis didn't finish the job. There was also the idea
that Cranston and Khan had the same master. So the
villain has the hero's powers as well. Besides, it's no
great accomplishment for The Shadow to beat up on
a couple of local punks. You have to import
somebody who knows what he knows and who is
Rounding out the cast is a wealth of character
actors, including Peter Boyle as a cab driver, acting as
one of The Shadow's many secret urban agents, Tim
Curry as the nefarious Khan cronie Parley Claymore,
Jonathan Winters as Cranston's police commissioner
uncle, and Penelope Ann Miller as Margot Lane,
Cranston's bright young love interest.
"Penelope is a lovely actress
and she's of the time somehow,"
says Bregman, who worked with
the actress previously on Carlito's
Way. "And she fits the clothes of
that period as well."
While The Shadow hardly
sounds like a movie with a prerequisite for
groundbreaking effects work, the recent computer-
generated craze did aid in the film's production in
many ways, including the creation of many of the
various, complex shadow effects.
"How do you shoot a shadow?" questions Bregman.
"How do you light it? You can't really control it, so
we basically did it all by computers. It's a whole new world
added to filmmaking."
Visual effects supervisor Alison Savitch is no
stranger to state-of-the-art visual effects, having
served in a similar capacity on Terminator 2: Judgment
Day and Dracula.
"I'll tell you, budget-wise and conceptually. The
Shadow was not intended to be an effects film," says
Savitch. "We only had something in the range of 50 to
70 shots. Now some people can say it's an effects film
because we ended up with 230 effects shots, which
gets us up there with Star Wars."
hile the shadows were created digitally so that "you
could have control and consistency over them and
could tweak and animate to the desired effect in the
CG (computer-generated) realm," Savitch also found
the rapidly developing process now capable of having
CG-created characters or objects interact in the live
action with believable results.
"When I was doing T2, the CG digital realm wasn't
as advanced," says Savitch. "Then, they were charging
$100,000 for a morph. Now 14-year-old children are
doing morphs on their Macintoshes with an $89-
dollar program. So things that were tough five years
ago, are much easier. Now they're coming up with
other problems to solve. On this film we have things
flying through the movie at one point which would be
very difficult to create without the CG realm. These
elements are completely CG-created and integrated in
a similar way to the composites in Roger Rabbit. It's
lit completely in the live action arena and completed
with the computer—which was really difficult before."
Creating a 1930s' New York was even more
impressive with extra large miniatures providing a
"We call them maxitures, because there are 14 buildings as
high as 28 feet, and they create quite a scope and scale for
the movie," says Savitch. "In addition, there are quite a
number of matte paintings, since New York of the '30s
doesn't exist. We needed a way to create that with minia-
tures and mattes. What's interesting is that Russell has a
real vision for what he wants to do, and he's taking advan-
tage of modem technology and integrating it to fit into a
1930s'-styled film to show things never seen before."
aving written the screenplays for both Jurassic Park
and Death Becomes Her, Koepp is very well aware of
how computer technology has broadened a
screenwriter's canvas in ways that mind-altering drugs
"The best comment I got from Steven Spielberg
while working on Jurassic Park was when he said that my
limitations were my imagination," says Koepp. "I
think it's a great summary of how you should write for
fantasy or adventure movies—just cut loose. If they
can't do it, they'll tell you. I remember specifically
writing one line of description in Jurassic Park where it
says, 'the T-Rex runs down the Gallimimus and
devours them in a cloud of dust,' and I thought, it
took me 24 seconds to write that line, let's see if
anybody can do this. And sure enough they did.
Jurassic was such a watershed in terms of special
effects and not just because of special techniques, but
an overall attitude of 'we can do anything we want.'
It's not even a crushing matter of money, because this
stuff gets cheaper every time."
For Mulcahy, his involvement came during the
filming of the Bregman-produced The Real McCoy,
starring Baldwin's wife Kim Basinger.
"I've known about the project tor 10 years and I
knew about the character and was always fascinated
by him," says Mulcahy. "The great thing is people
don't have a definite image of who this person (The
Shadow) is. They know the name and the tag line, so it
was sort of nice and daunting and sort of a challenge
to bring this character to the screen."
Shooting commenced last summer on the Universal
Studios lot in Hollywood, occupying five of their
soundstages tor a 14-week shoot. Ultimately the final
budget topped off around a very modest 40 million
"The key to the film is the combination of David
Koepp bringing the script to life and Alec Baldwin for
being born and growing up to play Cranston," says
Mulcahy. "There's also the technology that's providing
some of the effects. I think maybe 10 years ago we
would have had a completely different movie. I think
the times are now right for The Shadow. I remember I
saw The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad when I was seven,
and here you had this guy fighting giant cyclops and
dragons and two-headed eagles, and I said to myself, 1
want to be able to do that and create magic.'"
While not even The Shadow knows how audiences
will react to the pulp character's big-screen
transformation (look at the disastrous results of its
pulp-turned-pop cousins Dick Tracy and Rocketeer),
Savitch feels that The Shadow has a better chance
because it exists in its own special world.
"The difference is The Shadow is not relying on our
parents' memory of the radio show or the comic
book," concludes Savitch. "So it's pretty much the
script that stands on its own. It's got intrigue, a love
story, and it's got adventure. It basically touches on a
number of different lives and integrates them into a
good vs. evil story tor the fate of the universe. So it
pretty much goes beyond anything about the
character that has come before it."
SCI-FI ENTERTAINMENT, AUGUST, 1994